Preview: Leinster v Connacht

Date published: December 18 2014

Leinster make seven changes in total from the team which accounted for Harlequins in the Champions Cup last weekend including a number of welcome returns from injury.

Two of the changes are in the backs with Dave Kearney back from injury to take his place on the left wing with Zane Kirchner on the right and his brother Rob again selected in the full-back slot.

The other change is in the centre with Noel Reid coming in to partner Luke Fitzgerald. The half-backs remain the same with Isaac Boss and Jimmy Gopperth selected at nine and ten.

There are five changes in the pack with a completely new front row of Michael Bent, Aaron Dundon and Tadhg Furlong selected.

It is as you were in the second row with Devin Toner and Kane Douglas in the engine room, while there are two changes in the back row.

Shane Jennings returns from injury to win his 201st Leinster cap, while Kevin McLaughlin starts at blindside flanker. Jamie Heaslip captains the side from number eight.

On the bench, Maks Van Dyke is in line to make his first appearance for Leinster having signed last week on a short-term contract.

Meanwhile, Connacht lock Aly Muldowney is the sole player remaining from the starting XV that defeated Bayonne 29 – 27 in France last weekend.

Centre Robbie Henshaw returns to action following his involvement for Ireland in the November Series. The 21-year-old international is partnered by Bundee Aki, who starts in his preferred position of inside centre for the first time.

Mils Muliaina is named at full-back in a back-three with Danie Poolman and Matt Healy. 22-year-old Jack Carty is handed the reins at fly-half for his first game at the RDS while Ireland’s Kieran Marmion, who scored Connacht’s try at the Dublin venue last year, resumes duties at scrum-half.

Up front, John Muldoon will captain the side from a back-row featuring Eoin McKeon and George Naoupu. On-loan lock Quinn Roux partners Muldowney in the second row behind the front row trio of Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney and Rodney Ah You.

The most notable inclusion on the bench is Academy forward Ultan Dillane. Following a string of impressive performances for the Connacht Eagles, the 21-year-old lock from Tralee, Co. Kerry, could make his Connacht debut.

With the injury to Ian Porter and unavailability of John Cooney, last week’s double try scorer Caolin Blade has also been named amongst the replacements.

Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, Head Coach Pat Lam said:

“As per our planning, we see a different team this week to the one that lined out against Bayonne. Despite the six-day turnaround and tough 12 hour trips to and from France, we were able to have a good week’s preparation due to the use of all our squad over the last three weeks. This was vital as we prepare for one of the biggest challenges of our season against the defending champions stacked with quality players and in a venue where we have never won.

“While there is huge interest and excitement from supporters, we know that we will have to be fully focused on executing our roles, the game plan and our team work to give us any chance of success. If we do that the Connacht way, I have no doubt that we are capable of creating history tomorrow night.

“All the players are hugely excited to be involved in this game and it’s fantastic to be able to give Ultan, another promising player from our Academy, the opportunity to wear the Connacht jersey on the big stage.”

Form: Leinster’s only defeat in their last eight fixtures in all tournaments was at Harlequins in round 3 of the European Champions Cup. The Leinstermen have been victorious in their last 18 encounters at the RDS Arena since drawing there 29-all with Ospreys in the Guinness PRO12 in round 2 last season. Leinster have lost both encounters they have played against fellow Irish provinces this season and have only lost three successive matches against their fellow countrymen once before – in season 2003/04. Connacht have won their last four matches in all tournaments and have not won five in a row since 2002. Connacht’s only loss in their last five Guinness PRO12 fixtures was 11-26 at the Ospreys in round 7. Connacht are going for a first ever league double over Leinster having already beaten them 10-9 in Galway in round 3, however Connacht have won only once in Dublin since 1985: 26-23 at Donnybrook in the PRO12 in September 2002.

The teams:

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Zane Kirchner, 13 Luke Fitzgerald, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tahdg Furlong, 2 Aaron Dundon, 1 Michael Bent
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Maks Van Dyk, 19 Jack Conan, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Cathal Marsh, 23 Gordon D’Arcy

Connacht: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Eoin McKeon, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Willie Faloon, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Darragh Leader

Date: Friday, December 19
Kick-off: 19:35 GMT
Venue: RDS, Dublin
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 23rd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Andy Brace (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Peter Ferguson (IRFU)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (IRFU)